How a low-key investor had an outsized impact on Seattle tech – GeekWire

Madrona Venture Group co-founder Tom Alberg speaks at an event in 2015. (GeekWire File Photo)

Tom Alberg will be publicly remembered for all he did to help create and shape the Seattle-area tech industry, and for his early investment in Amazon, seeing the potential of the internet and helping give to Jeff Bezos the capital he needed to start the business. of the ground.

However, it was how Alberg interacted with people behind the scenes that would leave the greatest impression on many of those he worked with during his long career as a lawyer, investor and CEO. business and civic.

That’s the clear message of a series of tributes to Alberg posted online over the weekend by his many friends and former colleagues after news broke over the weekend of his death at 82.

“Tom did all of this work behind the scenes, away from the limelight,” his colleagues at Madrona Venture Group wrote in their reminiscence of Alberg’s life.

“He wanted the founders and leaders of the organizations he supported to shine as he helped them as a mentor and advisor. He came from a simple beginning in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, a grandson of immigrants, and helped found and build many amazing businesses and organizations from which we all benefit. And that style of understated impact permeated the way he served others.

Kathryn Sheehan, vice president and associate general counsel, cited Alberg as an example of the impact board members can have on businesses, during her 23 years on the board of Amazon.

“I personally learned a lot from my interactions with Amazon’s board, and Tom Alberg was no exception,” Sheehan wrote on LinkedIn. “He was discreet, dedicated and he could always ask a probing question that would make me think about my job differently.”

Greg Gottesman, who worked with Alberg at Madrona for many years, recalls being surprised to find him reading a book on quantum physics: “He said, in a matter-of-fact tone, ‘Oh, I want understand that.’ It was Tom.

Gottesman, now co-founder and managing director of Pioneer Square Labs, also recalled Alberg’s reaction in 1999 to news that Amazon had agreed to acquire LiveBid, a startup headed by Matt Williams, a founder they worked with. .

“I’ll never forget Tom’s expression of pure delight for Matt, ‘Isn’t that just the greatest thing ever?’ he said. That’s when I understood the magic of Tom,” Gottesman wrote in a post on LinkedIn Sunday.

Describing Alberg’s “unique and challenging management style”, Gottesman wrote that he was “a tough judge of talent, but when he believed in you, he gave you wide latitude to make mistakes (and more mistakes). mistakes) and hopefully accomplish great things, even as a very young professional.

Williams, who found after working at Amazon, told her part of the story in a comment on Madrona’s LinkedIn post on Alberg. He recalled Alberg approaching him, enthusiastic about investing in the company, after Williams gave a speech at the Alliance of Angels.

“It was magical when Tom smiled from ear to ear,” Williams wrote.

Julie Sandler, managing director of Pioneer Square Labs, who also worked with Alberg previously at Madrona, recalled the impact he had on her early career in her own LinkedIn post.

“As a 20-something green associate, from my first day on the job, he approached every conversation with me as if I were one of his longtime associates,” Sandler wrote. “It took my breath away. It lifted me. I still remember that today when I work with younger colleagues: how empowering it is to experience that level of confidence, of conviction and kindness. I feel such gratitude to him for what he taught me. May we all live up to his example.

See our previous article for more on Alberg’s impact and donation information; and check out Madrona’s LinkedIn post for more tributes and memories from those who worked with and knew Alberg during his life and career.


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